Chapter 9: Garrison duty in Austria

Discussion in 'North Irish Horse' started by Gerry Chester, Jul 24, 2006.

  1. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    The North Irish Horse - By Gerry Chester


    It was quite dark when we eventually reached the Austrian town of Wolfsberg. On dismounting we heard the familiar voice of SSM Humston calling to men of 'B' Squadron to fall in - but for his waving a hurricane lamp we just could not have done so. As soon as some semblance of order had been reached, it was a short march to our billet which happened to be a school. Joy of joys. Corporal Stevenson and his trusty crew had a hot meal ready for the hungry travellers!

    The following morning we were called to a meeting in the school hall, at which time the Squadron's 2nd/IC, Captain HE Irwin MC announced he was putting us "in the picture." Hearing those familiar words, memories of Major MacKean's untimely death came flooding back. Having told us he was acting OC while Major Sidebottom was home on leave, he went to say that details about the Regiment's garrison duties had not as yet been finalised. It so happened that over a week elapsed before we found out.
    [​IMG] Called once again for a meeting with the OC, the "scoop" was the NIH had become an Armoured Recce Regiment and was absorbing 56th Recce Regiment which was to be disbanded. Additional to personnel, we were to take over most of the Recce's lorries and Greyhound Armoured Cars. When some wag (probably a gunner) called out something to the effect "that means we're going back to those 2pdr popguns," there were chuckles all around. After the laughter had subsided, Captain Irwin went on to tell us that the Squadrons would be taking up garrison duties in different locations. 'A' Squadron in Vienna, 'B' and 'RHQ' Squadrons in Wolfsberg and 'C' Squadron in Santk Andrä, a small town some miles south of Wolfsberg on the Yugoslav border.
    An hour or so later, word came that Corporal Wiggins and myself were to report to the OC in the Squadron Office. Thus summoned, first knocking on a door signed Schuldirektor, we came to attention before the Captain and SQMS Burke. The OC came straight to the point, Jimmy was to take over as the Squadron's senior operator, leaving me more than surprised and wondering what was coming next. After saying that it seemed likely that the Squadron would be stationed in Wolfsberg for some time, to my astonishment, I was to be responsible for setting up a recreation centre for ranks below that of sergeant. Before I could say anything, the OC went on to tell me that I had a completely free hand, could call on the QM for anything I needed and could establish it away, but not too far, from the school premises.

    The First Greyhound Inn

    During the few days between our arrival in Wolfsberg and being "Put in the Picture," we were free to do very much as we pleased. I, usually accompanied by Jimmy Wiggins and/or Glyn Collard (of maggoty chestnuts fame) spent much time wandering around the town. One day we hitched a ride out to where Stalag XVIIIA was sited to find it guarded by Military Police. From once housing POWs, the majority captured in Greece and Crete, it had become 373 Internment Camp for Austrian Nazis.
    While rambling around, I had spotted a fairly large single storey building with a sign over its door announcing it to be "das Café something or other." As the days had long gone when we could just take over a building, telling Captain Irwin I knew the ideal place to set up the Recreation Centre, I was given permission to approach the Town Marshal to obtain the necessary requisition, he was most helpful, giving me a set of keys for the building.

    While a crew of willing volunteers were busy cleaning the newly acquired premises, I went to the NAAFI supply depot which was located in the nearby city of Graz. Among the many items available, I can remember buying a couple of dart boards, packs of playing cards, a chess set and several gramophone recordings by Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. I also came away with edible goodies which I hadn't seen in such an abundant quantity since voyaging to North Africa on HMT Duchess of York.
    With freshly painted sign "The Greyhound Inn" over the entrance, in less than a week we were ready for the grand opening It was quite an occasion, made the more enjoyable by Corporal Stevenson and his merry men taking charge of the foodstuffs and brewing the always welcome cups of tea - the Café's inventory of crockery was most useful! Apart from items in the "tuck-shop" category, which were a shelf behind the serving counter, everything else was on the house. Thereafter, to cover the cost of consumables, a small entrance fee was imposed. Going by the number of regular "customers" who used the facility, it was a great success. Although 'B' Squadron's stay in Wolfsberg was just for a few weeks - orders had been received to relieve 'A' Squadron in Vienna - the Greyhound Inn remained open.

    Austria's Capital City

    When we arrived in Vienna, towards the end of November, our first impressions of the city were not of the best. Not only was the cold of winter setting in, we were quartered in a dreary, unheated ugly building with an intermittent electricital service. Why such a drab structure should be located close to the Schönbrunn Palace, made one wonder!
    A few days after we had settled in, I was ordered to report to Captain Irwin. On arrival, I was surpised to see that Jimmy Wiggins had also been summoned. The OC first said, as it was obvious that it was not possible to set up our own Recreation Centre in Vienna, I was to run the Squadron Office while Corporal Nelson was away on leave. Having dropped that minor bombshell, the impact was lessened when he went on to say that both Jimmy and I were to get our third stripes.

    As the days grew darker, ever blowing winds from Siberia made that winter one of the coldest Vienna had ever experienced. The much damaged city, although in the Russian Occupational Zone, was divided as the rest of the country into four zones. Apart from military vehicles, including jeeps carrying MPs from each nation, there were few people, military or civilian, seen venturing out in the bitter cold.
    During the three months that the Regiment was part of British Troops Austria, other than the extreme cold, only a couple of events are worth recording - the day when all Austrian currency had to be handed in and seeing the Harlem Globe Trotters work their magic on the basketball court. The former was distressing for many of us as, on arrival in Wolfsberg we were able to change lira into Austrian money without any questions being asked - not only that, we could use schillings to buy sterling to be sent home!
    Just after the turn of the New Year, my Squadron returned to Wolfsberg, to rejoin the Regiment which had received orders to prepare for a move to Germany. Our sojourn in Austria came to an end on 13th January 1946.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 19, 2018

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